- “Doctor, good enough you are here,” he began. “My nails have white spots and I don’t know what causes them. By the way, is this dangerous?”
- I had to reassure him first—that having white spots on finger nails is a harmless condition and it’s common. In medicine, we call it “leukonychia.”
I became friends with James* from Mabibo suburb in Dar es Salaam recently and when he learnt that I am a medic, the expected happened—he threw in a question.
“Doctor, good enough you are here,” he began. “My nails have white spots and I don’t know what causes them. By the way, is this dangerous?”
I had to reassure him first—that having white spots on finger nails is a harmless condition and it’s common. In medicine, we call it “leukonychia.”
However, I had to mention it—quite frankly to him that having those white spots could signify that he has an underlying health problem. This, he has to find out with a doctor.
John was keen on asking what really causes the spots. He is not the first person to have asked me this question, but most times it came up, people associated the spots with certain myths.
Well, the spots could have occurred due to injury on nails. That was the second thing I told him—and this is the most common reason.
Perhaps James banged something on to the finger nails or the injury was caused by nail biting.
The injury may have occurred at the base of the fingernail leading to dots on the nails as they grew.
Usually, people tend to forget that they may have had an injury to their nails until after weeks have gone by—and in the end they wonder what might have happened to their nails.
But the condition could have been caused by an allergic reaction—from nail polish or certain gels.
Certain fungi infection too, can cause the white spots. The first sign of the infection may be a few small white dots on the nails. The infection can grow and spread to the nail bed. The nails may appear flaky and then become thick and brittle.
If you are deficient of certain minerals, vitamins and proteins, the white spots can appear on the finger nails.
The mineral deficiencies most commonly linked to this condition are zinc, iron and calcium.
When white spot on the nails is caused by injury, the marks will disappear as the nail grows outwards, however a dietary deficiency will make the problem recur.
There are other causes but they are not common. Here, we are talking of things such as, arsenic poisoning, pneumonia, heart disease, kidney diseases, liver diseases such as cirrhosis and another condition known as psoriasis as well as eczema.
Stay safe and make informed healthy choices!